Knowledge Systems, Innovation, Research and Development: briefing by HSRC

Science and Technology

11 September 2007
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report


11 September 2007

Acting Chairperson:
Mr E Ngcobo (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Knowledge Systems, Innovation and R & D Expenditure, Portfolio Committee on Science and Technology (HSRC)

Audio recording of meeting

The Human Sciences Research Council briefed the Committee on statistics around knowledge systems, spending on research and development, innovation systems, major research fields, numbers of researchers and value of innovation. The presentation took the form of slides and surveys. It also examined some farming and food issues, concluding that South Africa had the potential to be in the top five worldwide in terms of food security. Members asked questions relating to veterinary science, the manner in which the statistics were gathered, the publications for education, the inclusion of the historically disadvantaged universities in the surveys, and the indicators for food security. It was suggested that climate change and renewable energy sources should receive greater attention, and further questions were asked around South African investment in Research and Development, the absence of surveys over certain periods, indigenous knowledge usage, and concerns that local knowledge would be lost to overseas, through lack of support.

Presentation by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)

Professor Michael Kahn, Executive Director, Knowledge Systems; HSRC, highlighted five main components of the Information Communication Technology (ICT), which included, Knowledge Infrastructure, Knowledge Workers, Innovations and Technological Outputs, Knowledge Transfer and Framework Conditions.

The presentation consisted of several surveys on which Prof Kahn elaborated. These covered research and development (R&D) spending in South Africa, by sector, for 2005/06, Expenditure on R&D by Major Research Field 2004/05, Publications, Concentrations on Excellence, Major Flaws of Funding for R&D 2005/06, Number of Full-time Equivalent (FTE) researchers per 1 000 total employment, Location of Rated Scientists (2005), University Researchers, Value of Innovation, Expenditure of Enterprises on Activities 2004, Collaborative partnerships for Innovation Activities, Plant Breeders Rights, Knowledge Transfer, Industry & Universities & Science Councils and Farmer to Pharma studies. The graphs depicted in the slides were explained in depth (see attached presentation)

The Chairperson stated that, as far as he understood, there had been a decline in veterinary science. He wanted to know why the survey Prof Kahn had presented stated otherwise.

Prof Kahn answered that the survey referred to publications, and not to people. The number of research publications had increased since 2001, but a number of factors led to this interpretation.

The Chairperson commented that more facts needed to be taken into account before being able to consider the surveys properly.

Mr P Nefolovhodwe (AZAPO) asked about an item in the slide for the Publications survey.  In 1991 there was no item called education, but it suddenly appeared in 2001.  He asked where the Department received this information, and why the number for education was so low.

Prof Kahn replied that in 1991 publications for education were in existence, but that the Department only started tabulating when the number was above 2. This showed that the field of education had progressed

Mr Nefolovhodwe referred to the Concentrations of Excellence survey. He asked why it only examined the traditional, well-funded Universities, and not those that had been discriminated against in the past.

Prof Kahn replied that the survey took into account the number of volumes a University produced.  The number of papers was very important, and the survey acted as a filter, but it does not mean that some Universities were not making progress.

Mr Nefolovhodwe said that the Plant Breeders Rights survey showed that South Africa had food security. He questioned whether this was true, especially in relation to the poverty in the country. More than 60 percent of South Africans did not have food security.

Prof Kahn said that the issue of food security was a political one. The slide had sought to show that South Africa had the science and technology to improve food security.  It was the poverty of politics and not the poverty of technology that threatened citizens’ welfare when it came to food security

Mr Nefolovhodwe asked what kind of collaborations existed with foreign companies

Prof Kahn stated that he could not answer the question at this stage as HSRC was still busy with the results of the current survey.

Mr S Farrow (DA) asked if climate change and renewable energy should not be examined further

Prof Kahn said the reason South Africa did not have a footprint in renewable energy sources was once again a political question.

Mr S Dithebe (ANC) asked why the European Union (EU) did not appear under the Framework Conditions.

Prof Kahn replied that the EU programmes did not appear on the list because they were not local programmes. They fell outside the Department’s framework conditions

A Member of the Committee wanted to know if South Africans invested in the R&D

Prof Kahn agreed that some South African businesses did invest in R&D, such as De Beers and Sasol.

The Committee stated that the rural and urban poor should be brought into the Information Technology (IT) revolution, as this would be a way of uplifting the poor.

Prof Kahn answered that improving the lives of the poor had to come through more strongly.  Pro-poor policies would be evident more in the social sciences and humanities fields.

Ms B Ngcobo (ANC) wanted to know why there were no surveys conducted between 1993 and 1995, and between 1999 and 2001 for Knowledge Infrastructure.

Prof Kahn replied that he could not account for why there were no surveys conducted during that time period.

Ms Ngcobo asked if the Department was any closer to bridging the gap between the first and the second economy.

Prof Kahn responded that the answer depended on who was being asked; there was a diverse range of answers being given and he could not say with any certainty what the true position was.

The Chairperson said that he would like to emphasis that technology was politically driven.  Different economies showed different results, largely in consequence of political direction.  He asked what it was that went into Information Communication Technologies (ICTs)

Prof Kahn replied that South Africa did not have a large number of hardware technologies.  Companies such as MTN and Vodacom technologies were run on imported boxes.  A large number of ICTs were invisible.

The Chairperson suggested that indigenous technology could be used to alleviate poverty.  He asked what had happened to the six fission devices that South Africa had been developing during the time of nuclear build up.

Prof Kahn replied that people were working on nuclear technology during the 1960’s, and were doing it secretly. He did not have any details on that project.  Prof Kahn also stated that there were no institutes of indigenous technologies, so that was one of the possibilities to get research going in that field.

Prof I Mohamed (ANC) said he always found it strange, when he was lecturing at Wits, that people asked him how much time he spent on his research, in a manner that suggested that this was interfering with his teaching.  He wanted to know if some of the figures given in the surveys were guesswork, if a sufficient amount of research could not be done

Prof Kahn replied that he agreed with Prof Mohamed that it was difficult to determine how much time a researcher would spends on his or her research. Different Universities conducted the surveys, and the Department compiled the statistics.

Mr J Blanche (DA) was disturbed by the number of technologies that South Africa was losing to other countries.

The Chairperson said that the Department should have a section that was dedicated to the innovation of indigenous technology.

Prof Kahn stated that the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) wanted to reduce this lost technology.  There would always be some leakage, but the Department wanted to minimise the problem.

Mr Nefolovhodwe said that he noticed that in South Africa there were people doing research, and that although knowledge was being produced, it was not made known to many. Therefore many people were seeking to undermine the research, and by not supporting it, this meant that foreigners with interest in the technology being developed would make a bid for it. He was concerned that the knowledge would be bought outside of South Africa, only to be sold back to it later.

Prof Kahn replied that the country could not achieve success if indigenous knowledge was ignored. Countries like India and China had their knowledge in written form, which was crucial. This knowledge dated back 500 years. The problem with South Africa was that most of its indigenous knowledge was not previously written down.

Mr Dithebe asked where the Department would see ICT initiatives in 10 years time

Prof Kahn stated that he could not know for sure, but some of the initiatives would occur if they led to significant job creation

The meeting was adjourned.



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